Young Americans for Liberty had the largest test of their 501(c)(4) program, Operation Win at the Door. Operation Win at the Door is YAL’s plan to build a “bench” of liberty candidates for later federal or executive races by getting them elected now to state legislatures. For the general election, they endorsed 45 candidates, including 28 in New Hampshire. Overall, they went 18-26-1 (one race hasn’t been called). They went 2-1 in Maine, 0-1 in Massachusetts, 1-0 in Missouri, 0-1 in Nebraska, 11-16-1 in New Hampshire, 0-1 in New Mexico, 0-1 in New York, 1-1 in Rhode Island, 0-4 in Texas, and 2-0 in Vermont. Notably, they endorsed Laura Ebke, Brandon Phinney, and Caleb Dyer, all incumbent Libertarian Party legislators who all lost their first re-election bids. Most of the other endorsees were Republicans, but all had to pass YAL’s test for both principles and viability.
Young Americans for Liberty also endorsed one candidate in my home state of Iowa, sauerkraut salesman Jeff Shipley, who won his race in Iowa’s 82nd house district by 43 votes. I had the chance to talk with him about the race and YAL’s involvement, and his future in the state house. Shipley moved to the state of Iowa from a Chicago suburb when he enrolled at the University of Iowa. He got his political start through the Ron Paul revolution, and described his political career to this point as having been involved in a “lot of losing campaigns.” He moved to Fairfield, a place Oprah Winfrey called “America’s Most Unusual Town,” where he now lives. The city has people of all different stripes, including Ron Paul supporters, Bernie Sanders supporters, and practitioners of transcendental meditation.
In 2017, longtime Democrat state representative Curt Hanson died in office, forcing a special election in his district. While Democrats fielded local veterinarian and community leader Phil Miller, Republicans had a much tougher time choosing a candidate. Shipley threw his hat in the ring, but eventually, it was agricultural equipment salesman Travis Harris who took the nomination on the fourth ballot at a special convention. Reflecting on this, Shipley said it was for the best that he wasn’t nominated then, as he still had to mature before he was ready for a political career. He says he has since, mostly due to his part-hobby, part-side job of stand-up comedy. Around the time of the special election in 2017, Democrats had a full head of steam nationwide, thanks to the promising campaigns by Jon Ossoff, Conor Lamb, and Doug Jones. Miller rolled, winning by nearly 10 points in a special election with over 40% turnout. Republicans were disheartened and couldn’t find a candidate for the 2018 election before the June primary. However, a few friends of Shipley’s at YAL got a hold of him and encouraged him to run, and he eventually asked the state GOP chairman, Jeff Kaufmann, to hold a special nominating convention. Shipley was nominated at the convention just 10 weeks before the election and got to work with Operation Win at the Door.
Shipley says that without YAL and OWD, there not only would have been no victory, but there would also have been no campaign. Starting up his own campaign, it was the guidance YAL provided that pointed him in the right directions as to where to expend his energy. Shipley said the strategy that worked this time, and possibly what failed the Republicans in 2017, was his focus on local concerns over national and state politics. While he promises to fight for gun rights, cannabis, and criminal justice reform, tax relief, and other libertarian issues, it was a dispute with a local power company that he most wants to focus on. Since the election, Shipley has mostly talked about connecting with his community, and keeping dialogue open, honest, and civil. If the other 17 representatives approach governance similar to Shipley, Young Americans for Liberty has sparked a bright future for liberty-minded representatives.
* Andrew Bartholomew is a politics and election news writer from Iowa City, Iowa. He has previously worked for Young Americans for Liberty and was most recently the political director for a Republican congressional bid.